Richard Berthelsen: Prince Charles' 16th wedding anniversary turns sombre with father's death
TORONTO -- April 9, 2021 started as a day to celebrate a 16th wedding anniversary, the start of several planned Royal celebrations this month. It quickly turned sombre as the Queen announced the passing of her beloved husband of more than 73 years, Prince Philip.
This date already had some poignant shadows as it was the date of the late Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 and that of Pope John Paul II in 2005.
For Prince Charles, who was set to celebrate his wedding anniversary with the Duchess of Cornwall, it was yet another day tinged with a sense of what might have been.
In fact, in 2005, his wedding date had to be changed by a day as the Prince of Wales was asked to represent the Queen at the funeral mass for Pope John Paul II. To some, it seemed like yet another roadblock for the couple and a page from history, considering the break with Rome almost five centuries ago over similar issues: divorce and remarriage.
April 2021 was being looked for with other milestone dates, which will now be tinged with sadness rather than joy. On April 21, the Queen will mark her 95th birthday and on April 29 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. With her wedding anniversary, the Duchess of Cornwall now marks 16 years as a working Royal.
It is likely to escape notice of many, but the Prince of Wales has now been married to the Duchess of Cornwall longer than he was married to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. That first marriage officially lasted just over 15 years followed by Diana’s tragic death just one year later. Diana and Prince Charles had known each other only since 1977. Their courtship lasted scarcely six months prior to their Feb. 3 engagement ahead of the wedding on July 29, 1981.
By contrast, 2021 marks 50 years since Prince Charles was first introduced to Camilla. It is well-known that their relationship endured over most of this time, save for the years when they were married to other people. They are one of the most persevering of Royal couples, and yet the headlines continue to be dominated largely by Diana almost 24 years after her tragic death. Her infamous BBC interview with Martin Bashir, speculation on what she might think of current issues, and the appropriation of her legacy by sons Prince William and Prince Harry, such as the competing Mother’s Day initiatives by the two, are still big news and sideline Prince Charles.
For Canadians, the legacy of Diana and the failed marriage continues to loom large over the next King. It dwarfs most news of public duties and the charitable endeavours undertaken by Prince Charles or the Duchess of Cornwall. On this side of the Atlantic, very few people have had personal interaction with the Duchess of Cornwall, notwithstanding her visits to nine Canadian provinces and one territory (as well as three short visits to the U.S.).
By contrast, in the U.K., a warmer and more personal portrait of the Duchess of Cornwall has emerged, and many people have experienced her sense of fun and good humour, as well as her ability to relate to people from all lifestyles in a straightforward way. The Duchess enjoys herself in public and leaves the impression that she does not take herself too seriously.
In public, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall clearly revel in each other’s company, and their tours and events are more fun than most other Royals. Food is often involved, but also lighthearted moments and a twinkle in their eyes. The revel joined the Royal Family at age 58, and so for her, the establishment (and resurrection) of a public image has been more of a challenge than younger members. The Duchess of Cambridge, and the Queen herself, entered public life in their 20s.
In the 16 years since she has been in the Royal Family, the Duchess of Cornwall has taken on military appointments and more than 90 different charities. Most of her engagements are related to literacy or women’s empowerment and some of them are at the grittier edge of social action such as rape, domestic abuse, and active older living. Just last week she undertook a visit to a unique charity which provides train tickets to women who have been victims of rape, sexual abuse, or violence so that they may relocate. During the pandemic, the Duchess of Cornwall has been active in public -- not just on Zoom. She was also the first member of the Royal Family to wear a mask in public.
In March, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall undertook the first official engagement abroad since the pandemic, marking the 200th anniversary of Greek independence. It is remarkable that two people in their 70s should be the ones to undertake trips of this kind and it is indicative of their dedication and sense of duty to do so. In retrospect, it was particularly important as a tribute to the birthplace of Prince Philip, who was born a prince of Greece.
Many people at their age in life would be focusing on retirement projects and grandchildren. Yet, for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, their work is ramping up further. Charles has become the key player in the monarchy and within the Royal Family over the past decade, and that is more likely to be the case with the death of Prince Philip. But in the media and in the public imagination, articles refer almost always to the Queen, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren, as if the Prince of Wales might not also play a role as a parent and grandparent. But the Prince has been a proud father and soon-to-be grandfather to five, playing a pivotal role at the wedding of Meghan and Harry.
It reminds me that the question I receive most frequently is whether the throne will skip a generation and go to Prince William. In our system, that is not how the constitution works and barring an Act of Parliament -- in the U.K., Canada, and the 14 other realms where the Queen reigns -- it is not a possibility. Succession to the Crown is regulated by law as determined by parliament; it is not an object which can be left to someone in a will. Most of all, Prince William has not expressed interest in being King before his father.
Just over a year ago, Prince Charles and Prince William separately battled cases of COVID-19, like too many others. As with many families in the past year, the Prince of Wales has also been concerned for the health of his parents. But as soon as they could, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall embraced virtual and in person duties in support of the elderly Queen, and filled the gaps created by a smaller Royal Family.
It will have been a difficult year for the Prince of Wales as he has struggled with the deep divisions between his two sons and the public airing of family grievances, which were critical of him by omission and of decisions that he may have made. He will no doubt have missed his son and daughter-in-law, as well as grandson Archie, who he has barely seen over the past 18 months. It is not clear when they will meet again, or if the Wales family will be able to recover from what has been said publicly.
But as a couple, in good times and bad, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have been constant pillars of support and comfort to each other in their 16 years of marriage, much as they have been over the past half century. Given the example of the support, which the Duke of Edinburgh gave the Queen over almost 74 years of marriage, the importance of a supportive marriage to a successful reign cannot be underestimated. On such a sad day for the Royal Family, many will join in wishing the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall continued happiness in their marriage, as duty and destiny beckons in the years ahead.